I did not intend to write so much when I
started. So let's end with this one.
In the last installment, I discussed the
moist-soil technique of waterfowl management, which produces much of the
shorebird habitat at CA's that Missouri birders frequent. An impoundment is
allowed to grow up with smartweed and other annuals that ducks like and flooded
for the hunting season. It then remains underwater for the winter or is
reflooded by intentional management or spring rains when the ducks come back in
March or April. By the time the shore bird migration really gets going in
mid-April, the vegetation in the impoundment has been under water for a
long time and has disintegrated. As a result, when the impoundment is drawn down
or evaporates, the exposed habitat is usually covered with remnant dead
vegetation and/or muck. Only some shorebirds -- e.g. especially Wilson's Snipe,
Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers, like this stuff. Other kinds of shore birds
like a sandier feeding area, or at least a more open area lacking remnant
vegetation to feed and rest. To see the whole range of shorebird species,
the birder needs to find some of the more open, less vegetated, less
covered-with-black-muck, habitat. That can be hard to do, but there is usually
some of it around.
Here are some of the more common species, their
time of migration and their preferences:
Wilson's Snipe. Quite common, but many of
them are unseen because they likes some concealment by vegetation. (Thet comes
out in greater numbers near the end of the day.) With Killdeer, the earliest
migrant to arrive in spring and the latest to leave in fall. Also
found in ditches and along the edges of sewage lagoons.
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Early migrants
and common from mid-March to mid-May in spring and from July through September
in fall. Lessers greatly outnumber Greaters. Both species like most habitats. As
spring migration progresses, Greaters thin out, leaving mainly Lessers. It's the
reverse in fall. Lessers arrive first in July, followed soon by Greaters.
Am. Golden-plover. Very common in late March,
quite uncommon in fall, when most go back by the Atlantic route. Sizeable flocks
usually appear in disked fields, smaller numbers along the dry edges of lakes
and ponds. Most are in drab "basic" plumage, but by May there is often
an occasional individual in full nuptial regalia.
Least Sandpiper. Very common. Earliest "peep" to
arrive. Latest to depart in fall. (The most likely peep, if any is found in
winter). Usually likes drier edges of ponds and lakes but sometimes feeds in
shallow water. Not deterred by presence of vegetation.
Baird's Sandpiper. Fairly early spring migrant.
Fairly common in April. Present, but less common, throughout summer/fall return
flight. Very uncommon to rare after May 1st. Likes drier edges of ponds and
lakes but sometimes feeds along water's edge or even wades.
Pectoral Sandpiper. With Least Sandpiper,
probably the most commonly-seen peep for most of the migration, spring and fall.
Likes just about every habitat, including sod farms and puddles in fields.
A few can linger into November.
White-rumped Sandpiper. The latest spring
migrant to arrive. Uncommon before May 1st. Becomes the most common peep by the
second week of May. When the White-rumps appear in numbers, the shore bird
migration is pretty well over. Very rare in fall.
Semi-palmated Sandpiper. Very common, spring and
fall. Arrives in numbers later than Least, from mid-April on. By May 1, they are
probably the most common peep until mid-May, when the White-rumps take
over. Likes sandy open areas. Seen less frequently than Leasts and Pectorals
because birding focuses on mucky, vegetated drawn-down impoundments and sandy
open areas are harder to find. However, more Semis probably come through than
any other peep.
Western Sandpiper. Rare in spring. Uncommon in
summer. More likely to outnumber Semis in September. Feeds by wading in
shallow sheet water, whereas Semis are more likely to peck objects from a
Dunlin. Uncommon but regular in shallow sheet
water and sandy edges. Will sometimes appear in vegetated area, but does not
like it. Migration in fall is less obvious, perhaps because birders have focused
their attention on other habitats when the Dunlins come through. Flocks of
shore birds in October or November are apt to be Dunlins in basic
Sanderling. Regular in small numbers in May and
in summer. Like sand. Look for this species on the edge of an empty swimming
Stilt Sandpiper. Common wading in sheet water,
spring and summer. Does not care too much for vegetation.
Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. Both are
fairly common, feeding like sewing machines in sheet water or roosting on sand
bars. Long-billeds out number Short-billeds, but their abundance varies with
seasonal timing. Most April dowitchers are long-billeds. Most May dowitchers are
short-billeds, but there is a period of overlap near the end of April. It is
somewhat more complicated in fall. The adult short-billeds arrive first, usually
in July. By August, both species are present with Long-billed the most common.
Then the juveniles of both species come through in September. In October or
later, the probability is Long-billed.
Black-bellied Plover. Quite uncommon, but if you
get out regularly you should see the species annually. Hangs around drier edges
of ponds and evaporating lakes or on exposed sand bars. Can show up any time,
spring or fall, but is usually a fairly late migrant (May) in
Semi-palmated Plover. Moderately common, spring
and fall. Likes open mud flats.
Piping Plover. Very rare, but goes through
spring and fall. Likes dry sandy edges. Sometimes seen on sandy beaches. You
won't see this one every year unless you get out a lot.
Snowy Plover. Even more rare than Piping. Casual
except in NW part of state, where very rare. If you find one, it's
Avocet. Most common in fall, but occasional in
spring, this conspicuous bird strays regularly into our state. Often shows up in
flocks. You really cannot go out looking for an Avocet, but I usually see one or
more of them at an unpredictable location each year. They are more likely to
show up on a lake surrounded by rip rap than most other shore birds. I have seen
them swimming in the middle of a lake. I have also seen them in winter just over
the state line in Kansas.
Willet. This large shorebird usually shows up
during the last half of April or first week of May wading in sheet water. Does
not like vegetation. Also found in July and August. Check out sewage lagoons
with shallow water for this one.
Hudsonian Godwit. regular spring migrant,
usually in April. Extremely rare in fall. Likes sheet water and sand bars. Does
not like vegetation.
Marbled Godwit. Rare migrant. Most often found
in July, but does occur in spring. Like sheet water or sand bars. Does not like
Spotted Sandpiper. Very common, spring and
summer. Teeters along edges of lakes and ponds, often when there is no mudflat
or sheet water. Teeters on rip rap, exposed logs, even on road. Hard to
Solitary Sandpiper. Common spring and fall. One
of the earliest shore birds to arrive in July. Likes small puddles, ditches even
streams. As its name suggests, is not seen in flocks. Does not mind vegetation
Ruddy Turnstone. Believed to be rare stray, but
may be a bit more common than supposed because it usually comes through late
with the White-rumps when most birders have turned their attention elsewhere.
Likes open areas. Found along shores. Occasionally found in fall.
Wilson's Phalarope. Common spring and fall.
Frequents edges or swims in water.
Red-necked Phalarope. Regular, but uncommon,
migrant. Usually seen around the height of the spring migration during the first
week in May or in September. To be looked for in sewage lagoons, especially in
Red Phalarope. I have yet to see it in Missouri,
have seen it in Kansas twice in spring and once in fall. Best chance for this
casual species is probably to look on a lake in very late September or early
Long-billed Curlew. Believed to be casual, but
I'm not sure. In Kansas, the time and place to see L-B Curlews is in April in
green agricultural fields. I have often wondered if a regular search of
agricultural fields in April in Missouri River bottomlands (which few, if
any, birders undertake) might yield this species.
Whimbrel. Very rare, spring and fall. (Mostly
spring). A matter of luck.
Red Knot. Very, very rare. Likes sandy edges and
sheet water. Sometimes found with dowitchers. Best chance probably in
Buff-breasted Sandpiper. As noted before, best
looked for on sod farms in August.
Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Mountain Plover, Spotted
Redshank, Red-necked/Little Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Totally accidental.
However, with Doug Willis' persistence and luck, you'll probably see one or more
of them if you keep at it.
Eskimo Curlew. Hope springs